18th October 2022
Wagga Wagga, Australia
Coming of age was a traumatic experience for many First Nations Elders. Poverty, racism, and separation from family and culture were the norm, where growing up was a daily struggle to have a voice.
The Wiradjuri Elders featured in Anita Heiss’ new book, Growing up Wiradjuri, share these experiences… but it’s not all pain and suffering. With a focus on community, leadership and care, this book highlights a time when people looked after and supported each other.
Beginning as a small-scale community development project, Heiss’ vision grew beyond her initial hopes of sharing Wiradjuri voices.
Leanne Sanders, director and founder of Visual Dreaming, felt extremely privileged to be tasked with capturing and recording the Elder’s stories. Visual Dreaming is an organisation working with Wiradjuri Elders and youth to rebuild cultural identity and connections.
“None of this would have been possible without the hard work, love and generosity of Leanne Sanders and Shanae Pope [project manager],” said Heiss, at the book launch. “They worked daily with the Elders and always placed their needs and desires at the heart of everything they do.”
After four years of research and story collation, the book quickly rose to sit in the top five of Booktopia’s children’s books national bestsellers.
“The most moving part is that the Elders featured come from a time when they weren’t even considered as people,” says Sanders. “Now, their voices are being celebrated and they can share their stories loud and proud.”
One such example is ninety-year old Aunty Isabel Reid, who survived a childhood in the notorious Cootamundra Girls Home and went on to advocate for other children who suffered the system.
Speaking at the launch, actor and Wiradjuri man Luke Carroll described the impact of such storytelling.
“When we have an education about our First Nations people and respect for our journey, then we can close that gap and move forward together as a united nation. This is a powerful book that shares a deep love of country, kin and the strength of our old people.”
Storytelling is a big part of cultural practice and the sense of pride each Elder conveys reaches beyond the pages and into the community. As Heiss declared at the launch, “This anthology has become a gift to the nation by some of our most treasured Elders.”
In preparation for the October launch, local videographer Bernard Higgins captured the special moment Elders received their book copy from their family.
The generational impact overlaps with Visual Dreaming, which has just launched a pilot program for Wiradjuri girls; Butterfly Dreaming. The program supports cultural celebration, leadership and community connection.
Many of the Elders featured in the book are closely involved with Visual Dreaming, attending weekly workshops with youth in order to build a strong cultural identity and sense of belonging.
“We want to flip the script on the Aboriginal experience,” says Sanders. “These workshops are building up our girls to become leaders and valued members of the community.”
It’s a full-circle moment for the Wiradjuri community, as Elders share stories and skills with the next generation, helping them to understand their place and identity within their own culture.
Sanders is proud to be at the forefront of this change, connecting youth with Elders and creating an important record of live history.
Visual Dreaming is actively seeking funding in order to develop and deliver their Butterfly Dreaming programs for young women.
“We’re responding to a need in community,” says Sanders. “We know it’s valuable and we have a solid framework, so this is an opportunity for others to support positive growth for our community.”
Growing up Wiradjuri is published by Magabala Books and is currently available from Booktopia and other retail outlets.
Release date: 15 September 2022
Publisher: Magabala Books
Contact: Leanne Sanders
Phone: 0404 596 791Email: email@example.com